Transformation, the Suburban Sublime and the L-Word—West Coast—style

Your fiction is known for being ambitious, thorny and even willfully perverse. Yet your new novel, This Book Will Save Your Life, follows a man from a state of social disconnection to something pretty close to redemption. What happened to your edge?

I tend to write about the sides of people that are not the easiest to appreciate, but threaded through a lot of them is this idea of transformation. It doesn't mean I've lost my darkness.

You've jokingly said that every book is like a relationship that lasts four or five years. How would you describe this one?

The main character, Richard Novak, is hard to get to know, because he doesn't know himself. On that level, it was difficult but once he started to reach out to other people, it was easier. There's also his relationship to California, to the land. It fascinates me the way houses slide down the hill and people just build them in the same place again. I can't decide if it's an incredible kind of hope and belief, or just stupidity.

You're a longtime New Yorker, but you wrote the nonfiction Los Angeles: People, Places, and the Castle on the Hill—and now this novel.

National Geographic said they'd send me anywhere if I wrote a travel book for them. I said, "Send me to the Chateau Marmont and I'll live in L.A." It's the most American city and the most surreal. It's also incredibly suburban. Everything is visible: you see the individual living their life, coming into their house and moving through it. You see things that are less apparent in denser places.

You're also writing and producing The L-Word, aka "the lesbian Sex and the City," for Showtime. What is it like to write books and TV scripts at the same time?

There are definitely moments when I think I can't juggle all this. I was just at Yaddo a couple of weeks ago, working deeply and painfully on a memoir about being adopted, and now I'm back in L.A., talking about new characters for The L-Word. As a kid, I wrote, painted pictures, played the drums and the guitar in a band and had a darkroom in my parents' basement. Now, it's harder to do lots of things well, but the collaborative part of writing for TV is invigorating.